A couple of face-to-palm MOOC articles of late

What I really need to do is get back to some editing work on the collection of essays about the rapid rise of MOOCs, a collection I’m putting together with Charlie Lowe and that I hope will be out (both in paper and electronically) in fall. More on that coming soon, I am sure. But before I do that, I have been meaning to blog about a couple of articles/bits of news that I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks that just leave me, well, surprised.

First, “Coursera Snags $43-Million in Venture Capital” in their “second round” of financing, this on top of the $22 million it raised last year.  Here’s a link to Coursera’s blog post about all this. The only income Coursera has generated so far (according to this CHE piece) is through it’s “Signature Track” program.  As I blogged about here, it’s basically a way of taking proctored exams and otherwise getting your Coursera class to “count.” The Duke Composition MOOC allowed for this. According to CHE:

The program has generated more than $800,000 since January, a portion of which has gone to the universities that offered the Signature Track MOOCs on the Coursera platform. So far, Signature Track is the company’s “only significant source of revenue,” said Nikki Sequeira, a spokeswoman, via e-mail.

I realize the whole MOOC commerce thing is a moving target, and I know absolutely nothing about VC investing. But given everything we know about MOOCs so far– that there doesn’t seem to be an audience that is willing to pay anything for them— and given that Coursera keeps changing what business it is in (are they providing college credit? training? data for employers? taking on LMS companies like Blackboard?), it sure seems to me these investors would have been better off buying swampland someplace.

Then, on the very same day, CHE reported “Blackboard Announces New MOOC Platform.” Here’s a quote:

Blackboard, a company that makes software that many colleges use to run their classroom and online courses, announced on Wednesday that it was expanding its support for MOOCs, though it is relatively late to the much-talked-about trend of massive open online courses.

“We watched really carefully, and we thought about doing something” sooner, said Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard’s teaching and learning division, in an interview this week. “This is one of those times when we said this is a watch and develop, not jump on it.”

So basically, Coursera is trying to migrate into the LMS business and Blackboard is trying to migrate into the MOOC “business” (which isn’t really a business because there’s no money in it, but it is something that everyone is doing now).

Oy.

By the way, this is probably as good as place as any to point out I wrote a book chapter about using blogs (specifically WordPress) to avoid things like Blackboard and Coursera.  It’s called “Blogs as an Alternative to Course Management Systems: Public, Interactive Teaching with a Round Peg in a Square Hole” and it’s in Designing Web-Based Applications for 21st Century Writing Classrooms. I have a long section in that chapter subtitled “What’s Wrong With Course Management Systems?” One of these days, I’ll post a bunch of that here.

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